Timothy Schmalz sits on a bench with his Homeless Jesus.
Regis College has a new resident. Jesus the Homeless, a sculpture cast in bronze depicting Christ as a homeless man, was installed outside the Jesuit school of theology at the University of Toronto on Feb. 23.
This is Jesus Christ, thought artist Timothy Schmalz while mesmerized by a homeless man lying on the sidewalk on University Avenue. It was just before Christmas 2011, and the figure was wrapped in a sleeping bag in the middle of the day.
Haunted by this image, Schmalz, a Christian sculptor and public monuments artist, felt compelled to visually translate it. He cast the hollow, life-size figure lying on a New York-style bench in bronze. It weighs 320 kg and Schmalz says it will last 500 years.
The figure is wrapped in a heavy blanket and the face and hands cannot be seen. Only the pierced feet of Christ are visible, which Schmalz says gives the sculpture a sense of universality.
"This is a Christian message that has to be seen. People have to do that unfolding of the message that when they see a homeless person, they are really seeing Jesus Christ," said Schmalz.
He hopes that from a distance, passersby will think the sculpture is a real person and approach it.
Schmalz calls the sculpture a perpetual homily that represents one of the most powerful New Testament messages, from Matthew 25.31-46: "For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me."
"When you help one of the most marginalized people in the world, you are actually helping Jesus Christ," said Schmalz.
Schmalz, who lives in St. Jacobs, Ont., is disturbed to see so many people living on the street. So he spent a year on and off building the sculpture in a Beijing studio before shipping it to Toronto.
Regis has received the first Jesus the Homeless, with a second to be installed at King's College in London, Ont. Schmalz is delighted that his art will be displayed in both locations and available to young people. The Toronto sculpture is located at 100 Wellesley St.
"Christian sculpture . . . focuses on Christianity and celebrating the Catholic heritage. In a sense my mission is to put a face on Catholicism that is intriguing and powerful and that will bring more people to value this cultural force in our society today," he said.
He calls his Jesus the Homeless sculptures "bronze preachers." He wants them installed in as many locations as possible in Canada and globally.
"I've been doing Christian sculpture for more than 23 years and what I believe is that artwork is very, very powerful," said Schmalz. It has the power "to inspire, to help people meditate and also to raise up issues."
Schmalz is inspired by the pride of the Asian people towards their culture and by their willingness to express that pride by building 50-foot Buddhas all over China.
"I would like to bring that zest, . . . that enthusiasm over to us, (to) our religion. That's very exciting for me," he said.